At the Finish Line: Poles Up, Flags, and Emotions
Crossing the finish line in first place is special; topping a rival in a photo-finish is even more special as is getting that memorable first podium. Every athlete reacts differently at the finish; ranging from poles thrust to the sky, a fist pump, a grimace, that inevitable feeling of elation or a huge smile. Last season had a bit of it all.
Martin and Laura
Martin Fourcade and Laura Dahlmeier were the obvious big winners last season; both were many times uncontested in their victories. Their ease of victory usually left plenty of time to prepare for the finish, raise the ski poles and smile. Practice makes perfect and these two have the drill down pat. However once in a while, these professionals throw out some serious emotion; Fourcade showed it in the Pyeongchang pursuit, his sixth consecutive pursuit win. Likewise, Dahlmeier was well beyond excited when she crossed the line to claim Gold medal number six in Hochfilzen Mass Start.
Gabi and Kaisa
Gabriela Koukalová and Kaisa Mäkäräinen are probably the next two most experienced finish line specialists; they have 17 and 21 victories, respectively…and a lot more podiums. Everyone knows the “Kaisa Finnish,” ski poles held just shoulder high as she calmly glides across the line.
Koukalová on the other hand is a bag full of emotions. The single pole up, broad smile and wave to the crowd is her trademark, but this past season there were also kisses to the crowd, the double-pole rowing across the finish line in Oberhof, plus the “I-cannot-believe-this” look when she won the Sprint Gold in Hochfilzen.
Simon Schempp might get the nickname of “Photo-Finish Simon” after last season. The Mass Start World Champion had three close calls over the course of the year. There was the Nove Mesto pursuit where Quentin Fillon Maillet edged him for third place by a ski tip; the big Oberhof mass start win over Fourcade and Erik Lesser and finally the slide, fall, crash Antholz relay win over the stunned Emil Hegle Svendsen. Luckily in the IBU WCH mass start, Schempp was in control, taking the win with a huge for him 9 second margin.
Most of the big stars have at one time or another grabbed a flag from a fan to carry across the finish line. Anton Shipulin had one of the best flag carries at the IBU WCH, coming down the finish straight with the Russian flag in the men’s relay with a solid lead over his old rival Fourcade. However, Tiril Eckhoff had the most emotionally charged flag carry of the 2016-17 season at the Oslo World Cup. At the end of a frustrating year, the 2016 Sprint World Champion found the magic once more when she stunned the mass start field to capture the last women’s competition of the season on her home turf!
The finish line is usually television and the sports photographer’s utopia; keep the lens focused and capture the emotions from not just the winner but from the athletes whose dreams come true, even if they are just short of victory. The Östersund men’s pursuit got the ball rolling when young Anton Babikov claimed his first-ever win. Babikov’s elation as he crossed the finish line was one of the highlights of the early season.
Sixth Place Pleasure
A couple of weeks later, like a Phoenix arising from the ashes, Michael Rösch was overwhelmed and perfectly pleased with a sixth place finish, his best in six years and the best-ever for Belgium. Not long after, Michal Krcmar shot clean for his first podium in Ruhpolding; his third place emotions almost matched Babikov.
Lowell’s Pain and Elation
One of the big feel-good stories of the IBU WCH was Lowell Bailey’s first ever win and first-ever World Championship for the USA. Trying desperately to increase a razor-thin .1 second lead over the final 1100 meters, he found the strength to claim the win. It is almost possible to feel the pained look on his face as he lunged across the finish line for the win. The pain quickly melts into joy when he realizes that he is now a World Champion.
In an exciting season, filled with Bailey/Babikov moments, the most emotional finish was again in Oslo. Mari Laukkanen won the women’s pursuit, her second-ever World Cup win; she crossed the finish line eyes and fingers to the sky, dedicating the victory to her shooting coach Asko Nuutinen who had died unexpectedly the previous evening. With tears in her eyes, she commented, “We lost our shooting coach. Today I did as he has taught me to do. I was thinking about him; I honor him with this victory.” That was truly a priceless finish line moment.